NaNoPrep 2016 Day 15: Negative Feedback

by Robin de Voh on October 25th, 2016

The sun shone through the window and woke me up. I didn't feel any different at the time, but as I went through my morning routine, I noticed that I felt, well, 'off'. I can't really explain how or why, but something wasn't right. At some point during my breakfast I figured it was just one of those days and tried to shake it off. I was half-convinced the feeling would pass.

It was a Saturday and I had plans to meet up with friends in the city. I hadn't seen most of them for a while and was really looking forward to meeting up with them.

Arriving at the train station, I got a cup of coffee from the machine and paid at the self-checkout stand. I still felt off and was checking whether anyone looked at me weird, whether something was off about me for other people too. But as was usual in the bustle of the train station, I was ignored just like everyone else.

They say people are antisocial now, but honestly, I prefer not to be disturbed during my commute either. I just want to take a nap in the train, read a book or do a bit of work. What I don't want to do is get caught in some awkward conversation with someone who will inevitably not get the hint that I want to not have that conversation.

I sat down and closed my eyes. The train swayed back and forth, making it very easy to kind of doze off. Before I knew it, I'd arrived at my destination.

As I tried getting up, people kept pushing in front of me, like they refused to let me through. Eventually I managed to get out and into the aisle and out of the train. Out on the platform the same thing happened -- people cutting me off, ignoring me even more than usual. The only reason I didn't get run over is because I managed to jump out of the way in time. I found a spot where nobody would walk and waited.

If they're all going to be hasty assholes, I'm just going to be 5 minutes later and not run the risk of being pushed over.

When the platform had mostly emptied, I noticed a woman standing next to me, also waiting for the rush to end.

"It gets insane in the morning, doesn't it?" I said, faintly smiling.

She didn't respond. She didn't move, she didn't look, nothing at all.

"Ma'am?" I tried, leaning over a little to end up in her peripheral vision.

Nothing at all. I sighed and walked away. The escalator was now empty and I could pass unhindered. Once I got down into the passageway underneath the tracks, there were people again but it seemed to be a mostly calm moment. I walked to the Starbucks to get a coffee -- I really needed one again -- and went in.

The baristas were busy making people's drinks and none were at the counter. I took my place in front of it, sure that one of them would notice me and come over. I clicked my tongue when after 2 minutes nobody had even glanced in my direction. I coughed to get someone's attention but got none. One of them was just standing there, waiting for something. If he's waiting for customers, here I frickin' am.

"Hey," I said a little louder than I'd intended. But it was fine. I'm planning on being a paying customer, and it's more than fine if they know I'm displeased.

He turned his head towards me, almost locking eyes with me, and then looked away again.

Fuck this, I thought to myself and turned around to leave. I noticed there were feedback cards on the counter and took one. I walked over to a table and filled it out, making sure that they knew that this kind of behavior was entirely unacceptable, even for a Starbucks.

I already wasn't a big fan of them, but at least the service had been okay so far. Now, however, all redeeming qualities had gone. Starbucks was dead to me.

I slid the feedback card into the box and felt like I'd done a good thing. Hopefully somebody would lose their job over this.

Okay, no, I don't want that either. But like, a warning or something. That'd be nice.

As I exited the station I felt the sun on my face and it cleared up my mood significantly. Screw Starbucks.

We were supposed to meet up at a restaurant for lunch and it was about a 15-minute walk. I used the time to shake off any frustration left over from my ineffective attempt at getting a coffee. The odd feeling of people not paying attention to me remained, but in the city, that's kinda what I'm used to anyway.

But when I got to the restaurant and went in, the extent of weirdness of today became far more clear.

My friends were seated at a table near the front side of the restaurant, the tall windows offering a good view of the canals. I hung my coat on the rack and walked over.

Nobody responded.

"Hey," I said.

Nobody responded.

"Hey guys!" I said a little louder, frustration evident in my voice.

Nobody responded.

I poked one of them in the shoulder. He looked at me, well, not really. He looked through me, almost. His gaze was pointed in the right direction, but he didn't look up to meet my eyes, he looked straight through my stomach. After looking quizzically around for a short time, he shrugged and turned back to the conversation.

"That was weird," he said.
"What was?" another friend said.
"I thought someone poked me in the shoulder."
"What? There's nobody else here."
"Yeah, I know, that's why it's weird."

My shoulders slumped and my mouth fell open. I considered the situation for a while and every piece of the puzzle just kinda fell together.

I was invisible. I was obviously physically here, so I knew I wasn't a ghost, but either nobody could see me or they didn't want to. I shook my head. Thinking they didn't want to was typically me, why that was a serious consideration was confusing even to me, but it's where my mind went.

I kneeled down so my face was at eye level with my friends. I poked the same guy again.

His head swung around, a frown on his face. He looked straight at my face. After a second of looking through me it was like he suddenly did see me. He moved back a little, then squinted and seemed to look a bit closer. His face was close enough to me that I could feel his breath.

"Mike," I said loudly but not too loud.
"What the fuck..." he muttered under his voice.
"What?" somebody else said to Mike.
"I... I don't know. Something poked me in the shoulder again and I've got this chill along my spine. Like something's here."
"Dude, there's nothing there."
"No, like, there's someone here."
"What, like a ghost?" somebody else said, laughing.
"Maybe?" Mike said. He lost track of me, it seems, and he closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Never mind," he said and turned back again.
"Hey, when's Nick getting here, anyway?"

I was already there.

"I'll send him a message, he said he'd be here," Mike said.

When he pressed send, my phone buzzed and beeped. They all heard it.

"Hey, Nick, you just get here?"

I was silent for a second. I wanted to tell them I'd been here the whole time, but I now felt even more like they were playing a trick on me. First they couldn't see me, now they all did?

"Uhm, yeah. Just got here," I said instead of what was brewing in my head.
"Take a seat, man. Good to see you."

They all said similar things, as the conversation turned to me for a bit. I grabbed a chair and sat down.

To this day I don't know what the hell happened that day. We had a nice day out and nothing gave me any reason to doubt that they really couldn't see me. No references were made to it, no weird laughs behind my back or otherwise.

All I know is there was a day where I was hardly noticed for hours and it took the sound of a phone to bring me back into view.

That explains Starbucks. Well, explains, it gives perspective.

I hope nobody got fired.


Author's note: Nika Harper, an author whose writing I've enjoyed so far, tweeted about how writing about your fears is both wonderful and the most horrifying thing in the universe, and I wondered about what my worst fear is. Turns out, it's feeling ignored, irrelevant and/or unneeded (fearing it does not equal feeling it often, so this is not a woe-is-me sad sad). And guess what? She's right, it's not easy hitting 'save' on this one, but step 1 is admitting it, I guess :D